European Embargo on Palm Oil, a Violation of Human Right?

In recent years, the threat to palm oil has been increasingly insistent. Various forms of black campaigns, Palm Oil Free certifications, boycotts, and plans for a palm oil embargo were launched in Europe. European Union even threatens to eliminate the use of palm oil in Europe starting from 2020.

Europe’s plan for palm oil embargo is not only the worst form of competition in the history of modern trade but it also has potential to be considered as a form of violation of human rights in modern times. Why is that?

The least consequence from European oil embargo will be a threat towards the human rights of the families of palm oil farmer and consumers that include the right to work, the right to obtain income, the right to obtain food, the right to education and the human right to health.

First of all, palm oil is produced by millions of farmers in around 15 different countries. There are at least 5 million farmer households or approximately 20 million family members of the farmers who participate in the global palm oil production. These families usually live in rural areas or remote areas and they generally have relatively low incomes compared to the income of urban community especially the European people that are rich.

Oil palm farmers deserve to work and live better a life. It is one of the human rights that must be fulfilled. They are trying to increase their income through the economy in the oil palm plantations. If the oil embargo is carried out by Europe, then the first victim will be the oil palm farmers in 15 countries. These people are threatened economically.

Secondly, it is estimated that there are roughly 50 million workers working in oil palm plantations, which support around 200 million family members. These workers have relatively low levels of education attained and because of that they are not accommodated in the modern-urban sectors. They work in oil palm plantations because the income they get is better than other jobs in the countryside. The European oil embargo will threaten the economic rights of these unprivileged oil palm workers.

Thirdly, palm oil is one of the food ingredients recommended by FAO. The price of global palm oil has always been lower (around USD 100-200 / ton) than the price of other vegetable oils such as soybean oil, rapeseed oil and sunflower oil. The presence of relatively inexpensive palm oil benefits poor people around the world.

About two billion people in the world are still poor and have low-income for example in India, China, Africa, Central Asia, and others. The availability of palm oil increases the access of the world’s poor to cooking oil. The availability of palm oil that is cheaper also prevents the prices of other vegetable oil from increasing. Otherwise it reduces access of the poor or low income people to cooking oil. If the European oil embargo is carried out it will limit the rights of the poor to get oil for food.

The previous explanation shows that human rights are inherent in the global palm oil economy. If the oil embargo is imposed by Europe, tens of millions of farmers and workers in oil palm plantations around the world have the potential to lose the right to work and to obtain income. If these two rights are lost, the next human rights, namely the right to obtain food, the right to education and the right to health, will be disrupted and even disappear. In addition, the access of the world’s poor to cooking oil will also be disrupted.

In short, the privileged European community needs to understand that in the global palm oil economy, human rights are inherent. And therefore, European society must prevent potential violations of human rights that will occur from the embargo. Surely, Europeans must not want to repeat the practice of oppression of human rights carried out by their ancestors in the Colonial period while descendants of some victims of the colonialism are currently depending on the global economy of palm oil.

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